Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Many different ways to play

There are a thousand different ways to play fantasy football and I've played just about every one of them.

But the best leagues keep things as simple as possible. I've played in scoring leagues, yardage leagues, combined scoring and yardage leagues, and leagues that used individual defenders with as many ways for the defenders to score points as the offensive players have. The bottom line is that the easier it is to keep score, the better.

Certainly most leagues are on-line at this point. But who hasn't been stuck somewhere without Internet access wondering just how your team is doing? That's no fun, especially in an activity in which most of the action happens within a six-hour period on Sunday.

Scoring

I prefer a league that uses a combined yardage and touchdown scoring system because it is the most realistic and rewards those who tote the ball down the field only to give way to a specialty player who scores the touchdowns. Owners who had the Steelers' Duce Staley last season can attest that it was no fun seeing Staley carry the ball five or six times during a drive only to watch helplessly as Jerome Bettis crashed into the end zone to culminate it.

Many leagues use individual defensive players and that's a fine way to get even more in-depth with your fantasy fun, but try to keep the stats used to the ones who are easily tracked. In other words, don't use tackles as a statistic.

Why? Tackles in the NFL are subjective. What I mean by that is that they are kept by each individual team and often changed later in the week after the coaches have a chance to go over the game film. So those 13 tackles Ray Lewis was credited with on Sunday may be changed to 11 or 15 once the coaching staff takes a look at it.

Also, some teams are notorious stat padders. Ever wonder why one team has six guys who have more than 100 tackles, while another only has one or two?

Prior to a playoff game a few years ago, I was sitting around going over the opposing team's stats looking for story ideas. I noticed that particular team had six players with more than 100 tackles, including two who had over 150. I added up the total number of plays that team had run against it that season - completions plus rushing attempts and sacks - and it came out to more than 150 less tackle opportunities than that team had total tackles. And that didn't include the assists, which some teams give to guys who jump on the pile after the play is over.

That's why you shouldn't use tackles as a statistic. If you must use individual defenders, stick to the things that are easily measure - interceptions, sacks, fumbles forced and fumble recoveries. And of course if your defender records a safety or touchdown, that's worth points as well.

When I say keep it simple, that goes for the draft as well.

Postitions

It's going to be impossible to make all positions equal, so don't bother trying. There's no way that a placekicker or tight end - even the best tight end in the league - is going to be worth as much as a quarterback or running back. They touch the ball more and as such, are the primary scorers on most fantasy teams.

That doesn't mean I haven't seen teams do well that were stronger with receivers than they were with quarterbacks or running backs, but it is a rarity. Unless you are lucky enough to have Randy Moss and Terrell Owens on the same fantasy team, you're not going to win a championship with a wide receiver-dominated squad.

One thing I always do before I go into a draft is sit down and rank my top 100 or so players and also come up with a list of players I want to avoid and a list of sleepers. All too often you get into the middle rounds of a draft and suddenly you're shocked that a certain player is still available. Often, it's a player who's on my list of players to avoid. I let somebody else deal with that headache.

I always try to fill out my starting lineup first, taking at least one running back and a quarterback with my first three picks, before moving on to fill out the rest of the lineup. That means take three sure things before you start rolling the dice.

Every year there are players who are supposed to have breakout seasons who don't live up to the hype. The always over-hyped Ashlee Lelie ring a bell for anyone?

Don't fall into the trap of drafting somebody on potential while allowing established players to pass you by. Get a quarterback, two running backs and a pair of starting wideouts before you start looking for the next Anquan Boldin or Reuben Droughns.

If you hit a home run there, then maybe you can trade from a position of strength, trading two good players for a great one, with both teams benefitting.